Blair slapped down for freedom of information attack

Tony Blair's attack on freedom of information (FOI) laws was humiliatingly slapped down today by an influential committee of MPs.

The former prime minister was criticised by the justice committee for refusing to attend its sessions into the legislation, despite claiming the Act was "antithetical to sensible government".

Chair Sir Alan Beith said: "When we sought to question Mr Blair he refused to defend his views before us and submitted answers to our written questions only after our report was agreed – and after a press report appeared suggesting we might criticise his failure to give evidence.

"We deplore Mr Blair's failure to cooperate with a committee of the House, despite being given every opportunity to attend at a time convenient to him."

The committee overwhelmingly backed the current FOI system, despite arguments from some ministers and senior civil servants that it was having a 'chilling effect' on policy discussion.

"The Act was never intended to prevent, limit, or stop the recording of policy discussions in Cabinet or at the highest levels of government, and we believe that its existing provisions, properly used, are sufficient to maintain the 'safe space' for such discussions," Beith said.

MPs also rejected the idea of raising costs on individual FoI requests and pointed out that manyFOI cases end up reducing government costs by revealing areas of wasteful spending.

"Complaints about the cost of FOI will ring hollow when made by public authorities who have failed to invest the time and effort needed to create an efficient freedom of information scheme," Beith said.

Instead, the committee demanded reforms to grant the FOI system more power, including higher fines for the destruction of information and data on how quickly public bodies were responding to FOI requests.